Syberg delivers clutch outing for Redhawks

Sunday, May 25, 2008

PADUCAH, Ky. -- It was a rough sophomore season for Southeast Missouri State pitcher Josh Syberg.

But Syberg made up for much of that Saturday in his biggest start this year.

Syberg notched his first win of the season, working into the seventh inning as the Redhawks beat Jacksonville State 6-4 in the losers bracket final of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

"It feels great," Syberg said.

Syberg was a member of the OVC all-freshmen team last year, when he was a conference starter and went 4-4 with a solid 4.32 ERA.

He entered this season expecting big things. So did Southeast coach Mark Hogan.

Syberg got off to a solid beginning. In his fourth start, at Memphis on March 16, the left-hander allowed one earned run in eight innings, although he took the loss. His ERA was a solid 3.15.

Since then, however, not much went right for the product of Vianney High School in suburban St. Louis.

Syberg entered the OVC tournament 0-3 with a 7.31 ERA, having allowed 65 hits in 44 1/3 innings. He was removed as a full-time conference starter following Southeast's second league series and wound up making just four OVC starts.

"The whole year nothing was going for me," Syberg said. "Once I started doing bad, it got to my head. It's so hard to get back up.

"It was all negative in my head. My confidence was down."

Syberg is not overpowering. A slender 5-foot-11, 160-pounder, his success is predicated more on movement and location than the velocity of his fastball.

That formula returned to Syberg on Saturday against top-seeded Jacksonville State, which had been 4-0 this year against Southeast, including Thursday's 7-6 win that sent the Redhawks into the losers bracket.

Syberg carried a shutout into the sixth inning before allowing a solo home run with two outs that cut Southeast's lead to 5-1.

After JSU got two straight singles to start the seventh, Hogan replaced Syberg with Ryan Poole.

The Gamecocks wound up scoring four times in the seventh to make it 5-4, but Southeast never lost the lead.

Poole worked a scoreless eighth then handed the ball to ace Dustin Renfrow, who nailed down the win.

Syberg was charged with three runs in his second-longest stint of the season. He allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out four.

"Josh was unbelievable. That's what we saw out of him last year," Hogan said. "He threw some wonderful pitches."

Syberg said he had "everything" working Saturday.

"My curveball and fastball were moving, my changeup kept them off balance," Syberg said.

After losing to JSU in Thursday's winners bracket semifinal, Southeast bounced back to oust Tennessee Tech on Friday.

Following the victory over the Eagles, Hogan told Syberg he would start Saturday's contest.

"When I found out, I was really excited," Syberg said. "He said I could redeem my entire year."

Syberg had plenty of help against the Gamecocks.

Matt Wagner belted two home runs -- a three-run shot in the first inning and a massive two-run blast in the fifth -- to account for five RBIs.

Justin Wheeler made a dazzling catch near the left-field wall to end a bases-loaded threat by the Gamecocks in the fourth inning.

Poole did the job to get Southeast into the ninth inning with a 6-4 lead.

Renfrow then closed out things with a perfect frame -- he struck out two -- for the first save of his two-year Southeast career.

Renfrow, who pitched all nine innings during Wednesday's first-round tournament win over Austin Peay, had been a closer in junior college. He welcomed the chance to perform that role Saturday.

"I love that situation," said Renfrow, who came back later Saturday to retire three batters in the ninth inning as Southeast was eliminated by Eastern Illinois. "I told coach I'd be available if he needed me."

Like Hogan, Renfrow marveled at Syberg's performance.

"That kid stepped up today," Renfrow said. "He struggled all year, but he came out and pitched like he's been the ace."

While Syberg said his performance Saturday doesn't entirely make up for his season, he believes it will send him into next year with the positive outlook he had been lacking.

"I feel like I'm back," he said. "I'll have so much more confidence now."

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